Times Past: Havering football in the late 19th to early 20th centuries

PlayFootball have opened a new 5-a-side football centre at King George’s Playing Fields, Romford.

Romford Football Club was founded in 1876 by F. H. Thirlwell and played at a ground in Mawneys.

Little is known about the club, but it may have been linked to the public school tradition of football.

It consisted mainly of boys who had just left school and Thirlwell himself went on to become an army Major.

Taken over by W.D. Matthews by 1881, it certainly played teams like Clapham Rovers with a high proportion of players from public school.

By the 1880s football was flourishing throughout the area.

Among many others, a Hornchurch FC has been recorded in 1881, “Union FC” is recorded in Romford in 1882, a Romford team known as “Buffaloes” in the early 1890s, Upminster Football Club in 1900, Harold Wood Athletic in 1907, Mawney’s Institute FC in 1914, the “Ivy Leafers” in Romford in 1924, and Rainham Athletic by 1925.

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The rise of football as a mass sport is usually associated with the rise of industry and laws giving workers statutory time off.

This definitely seems to have been the case here.

A team of players from Hornchurch Iron Foundry known as “The Irons” played in the early 1880s.

Romford Tradesmen’s FC are recorded in 1914 and Upminster Thursday FC in the 1920s.

Both played on Thursday afternoons, when shops and businesses had a half day, and were made up of local workers.

Pitches were often provided by work places. A railway company ground existed in Romford near the junction of Victoria Road and South Street by the 1890s, Romford Brewery provided one in Waterloo Road near the railway, and there was another by the NeoStyle factory at what is now Roneo Corner.

By the First World War the local popularity of football was of use to the armed forces.

In 1918 the RAF put on a football match and other events at its Suttons Farm site (later RAF Hornchurch) to ensure good community relations, and the Sportsmen’s Battalion did similar at their base in Grey Towers, Hornchurch, in 1914-15.

Though the first football teams in the area where overwhelmingly male, a 1916-17 photograph of Brock’s Football Team (blouse manufacturers in North Street, Romford) held by Havering Local Studies Library, shows an all-women team.